By BILL KIRK
---- — ANDOVER — It doesn’t seem like it would take much. A well-meaning local resident and businessman proposes a banner be hung across Main Street in the heart of downtown to herald community events such as Andover Day, Holiday Happenings, annual Town Meetings and the like.
But this, as they say, is Andover, where every change, even little ones, can take a long, long time.
In fact, it’s even spawned a joke: If you want to do something here, you have to propose it over and over and over and over.
Put the word “and” together with “over” and you get: Andover.
So it is with the banner, something proposed nine years ago by Andover’s Mark Spencer, a former photography shop owner who now runs Water Analytics, a manufacturer of water treatment technology.
Spencer, the former president of the Andover Rotary Club, first proposed flying a banner downtown in 2004.
“That’s when we started,” the Spring Hill Road resident said. “There were a ton of hurdles to cross. And this wasn’t my full-time job. Even if I had spent all my time and energy on this and worked at it full-time, it still would have taken five years.”
But early Tuesday morning, with help from a small army of volunteers and town workers, the first promotional banner — complete with steel guy-wires, building anchors and high-strength, rip-stop nylon — was hung with care.
Measuring 30 feet wide and 36 inches tall and announcing the upcoming Andover Day on Sept. 7, the colorful, blue and yellow banner stretches from the corner of One Main Street, home of the bridal center housing Cristina’s, to the corner of the Barnard Building at 8 Main St., home of Indra Salon and Latitude Sports Clubs. Both buildings are owned by Tom Belhumeur.
“It is the happiest day of my life,” Spencer said, “second only to my daughter being born.”
His involvement started in 2004, after he proposed putting up a banner to advertise Andover Day.
He and fellow members of the Andover Business Community Association were told by town officials that since there was nothing in the sign bylaw about banners, they must be illegal.
“It was a very severe reading of the bylaw,” he said.
Rather than take that as a defeat, Spencer worked closely with local attorney Peter Caruso and Jim Kapelson of Kap’s Menswear on a new bylaw that addresses banners.
“I researched every bylaw across the country and wrote it myself,” he said, adding that Andover’s now senior planner, Lisa Schwarz, was instrumental in guiding him through the process of researching and writing a bylaw that would get the necessary approvals.
Once it was written, the bylaw garnered approvals from the Board of Selectmen, Design Review Board, Planning Board and the now-defunct Main Street Committee, among others.
“We went through one committee after another and wore everyone down until we had everybody on our side,” he said.
Then, it was on to Town Meeting — one of the events the banners are intended to promote — where voters in May 2008 approved Spencer’s bylaw.
Then, it was back to selectmen — this time for approval to form a committee that would raise money for poles they initially thought were needed to hang the banners from.
And that’s when the effort stalled because the banner committee couldn’t find a place to mount the poles that wouldn’t interfere with underground utilities.
“We were dead in the water,” Spencer said. “I thought it was over. We couldn’t find a place to put the poles and even if we could, we couldn’t figure out how we were going to raise the money for them.” It was estimated they would cost almost $50,000.
In October 2010, Spencer got an email from Merit Tukiainen, former owner of Night & Day, a specialty store for women’s lingerie on Park Street. Tukiainen suggested Spencer contact Belhumeur of CHB Enterprises of Swampscott, the owner of 1 and 8 Main St., the two buildings on opposite sides of the main thoroughfare through downtown.
Belhumeur agreed to let Spencer and his group install brackets on his buildings, which now hold the removable steel cables for the banners to be flown.
Working closely with Mark Baldwin of Baldwin Crane in Wilmington as well as his engineer, Jeff Berry, they figured out a way to put up the banner without a lot of fuss.
Finally, at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, the first of what is hoped to be a series of promotional banners was installed.
Spencer’s efforts were lauded by town officials, including selectmen.
“I applaud Mark’s persistence,” Selectman Paul Salafia said. “He is focused on business development in Andover and he should be commended.”